One of the most common issues I see up and coming rappers face who are learning how to rap is not having structured lyrics. In this article I will explain what structured lyrics are, why they are important and how you can ensure your lyrics are structured from here on out.
The Importance Of Structured Lyrics
So let’s start off with what the word structure means in the first place. Structure: coherent form or organization.
let’s also take a gander at the word “Coherent”. Coherent: logical and well-organized : easy to understand. able to talk or express yourself in a clear way that can be easily understood. working closely and well together.
And also a look at the word “Organization” Organization: the act or process of putting the different parts of something in a certain order so that they can be found or used easily
Now that we have gotten that out of the way hopefully you can understand why having structured lyrics is so important for the following reasons.
- Your lyrics are well organized
- Your lyrics work closely and well together
- Your lyrics have patterns so others can follow along easily
- And so that you can rap your lyrics repetitively and consistently the same way.
Identifying Unstructured Lyrics
A few indications that lyrics are unstructured are as follows
- Lack of rhythmic pattern
- Lack of rhyme scheme pattern
- Bars don’t begin and end evenly or have any structured format of length in musical time
- Inability to rap verses the same way repetitively
- Certain parts of the lyrics are being crammed into each other and loose clarity
How To Structure Lyrics
Establishing 4 count
In order to have structured lyrics you must first establish your 4 count which is to say “1,2,3,4” in time with the tempo. Each bar contains 4 quarter notes. Within each quarter note section is 4 16th notes. Remember the kick typically falls on the 1st & 3rd quarter note and the snare typically falls on the 2nd and 4th quarter note. If you are having trouble getting the timing of your count right try saying 1 milly 2 milly 3 milly 4 milly. This technique allows you to fill in all 4 of the 16th notes of each quarter note section by sustaining the number being said for two 16th notes followed by milly which is two syllables which takes up the two remaining 16th notes of the quarter note section.
Maintaining 4 Count
Maintaining the 4 count is just as important as establishing it. Here are several ways you can achieve this.
- Moving a body part to the 4 count such as tapping your foot, bobbing your head, snapping your fingers, patting your hand on a surface etc.. This technique uses your muscle memory and is somewhat of a human metronome. What is a Metronome? It’s a device used by musicians that marks time at a selected rate by giving a regular ticking sound. Many musicians use this technique in some capacity. The next time you watch a musician perform see if you can spot their technique of maintaining the 4 count.
- Another technique is using your own internal memory to say the 4 count in your head which still manages to free up your vocals so you can rap your lyrics. This technique is harder for most to do as it requires you to think of two things at the same time since you will be maintaining your 4 count while either writing or rapping your lyrics. But this is still highly effective and once you get good at it then it becomes almost apart of your sub conscience and you don’t really have to think about it.
- Depending on the beat you are rapping to often times the beat itself will have somewhat of a 4 count in it as discussed earlier. 1 Kick 2 Snare 3 Kick 4 Snare is one of the common ways you can listen for the 4 count but sometimes other instruments may play in a 4 count such as hi hats, bass lines, strings, keys, etc.. Just listen to the beat and see if you can hear any noticeable 4 count sections being played that can help guide you.
Scatting & Writing to the 4 count
Once you have learned to establish and maintain the 4 count “which is the foundation anyone making music must first lay in order to build upon it in a structured format” it’s now time time to start structuring rhythm and lyrics around it. I like to start off first by scatting aka “mumbling gibberish” in order to get a sense of the rhythm/cadence I would like to create with my lyrics for the track.
If you are afraid that you may forget some of your cadences that you come up with feel free to record them on a device that you have handy to reference to later. While I’m scatting I also like to try and place words with syllables that match certain parts of the cadence I’m playing around with. I typically will place these words at the beginning of a bar or at the end just to get me started.
Once I feel like I’ve come up with a particular cadence that I like I then begin to start coming up with combinations of words that contain the syllable counts needed to fill in each quarter note section of a bar. This is very important because It ensures that you are rapping in time with the beat and that your syllables that are supposed to be hitting on top of the kick and snare are indeed doing so which are typically the 4 quarter notes which we discussed earlier.
Now if you are having trouble doing this I’ve taken it upon myself to create what I call “Bar Sheets”. Below is a screen shot of what they look like in use. Each of the 4 columns going down the page are separated in 4 sections which represent the 4 quarter note sections of each bar and are labeled 1,2,3,4 accordingly. And each line going across the page represents 1 bar. There are typically 16 bars in a verse and the bar count is labeled on the left side of the paged 1-16 accordingly. There is also a 8 bar section for the hook as well and this song format repeats 3 times to make up a full length song.
The words and syllables that you see in bold is actually where the beginning of the quarter note section begins. The words that you see in italics are “Lead ins” which are said technically at the very end of the bar before them but are beginning a new thought which is leading into the next bar. I often like to give myself room to breathe on the 4th quarter note sections which also gives me room to “Lead In” to the next bar if I wish. And the words that you see highlighted in yellow represents parts of the rhyme schemes and the repetition of similar sounds that don’t necessarily rhyme.
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How Did I Do?
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